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Georgetown University | Happy Cog - Web Design & Development
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Georgetown University homepage

Georgetown University

Georgetown University provides an educational experience that ranks among the world’s finest, and provides a superior education at undergraduate, graduate, and continuing levels.

Georgetown’s site displayed classic symptoms of higher education web design challenges. First, content was buried deep within the site, rather than surfaced in logical places. Second, Georgetown’s approach to content was traditional traditional: one structured by categories of content (Student Life, Athletics, etc.), the other structured by self-identifying into a particular audience (Current Students, Prospective Students, Alumni, and so on). This widely adopted menu approach is problematic: Where does content actually live? What if content, such as event information, is of interest to more than one of these audiences? The approach also creates additional page and mental clutter.

Happy Cog’s approach with Georgetown was intense and far-reaching. We engaged in participatory design exercises with key audiences and invited alumni to spend time with faculty, students, and staff to help us grasp how to convey who Georgetown was. We built an editorial style guide and provided training workshops in writing and managing web content effectively. We used newer conventions outside of higher education to provide a fixed, smart footer that encouraged visitors to self-identify once and remembers their choice, serving event information, key web pages, and other audience appropriate content.

The visual system balanced the classicism of Georgetown’s campus buildings with the modernism of its ideas. Subtle references to the ornate touches of the institution’s architectural history play against typography choices that evoke a strong connection to both the past and the present.

Happy Cog decided it was time to abandon the traditional category/audience navigation approach, and worked with the Georgetown web team to develop a fresh take on the external vs. internal audience dilemma. Rather than try to build two competing navigation structures, we took advantage of newer conventions outside of higher education to provide a smart footer, fixed to the bottom of the screen. This approach was becoming increasingly common in news sites, but had not been applied in an academic context.

The footer encourages visitors to self-identify once and remembers their choice, serving event information, key web pages, and other audience appropriate content. The experience is contained, small, and follows the visitor throughout the site, so audience-appropriate news and information is always a single click away, and never competes with the primary navigation structures that tell Georgetown’s compelling story.

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